Facts behind botched General Assembly in Port Harcourt
The Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) had planned to hold its first General Meeting in Port Harcourt on October 26, 2017.
The major issue to be discussed at the meeting was adoption of the body’s constitution, after which elections were to be held to fill all elective positions. But in a dramatic fashion, the meeting never held, as it was disrupted by security agencies.
The Palace Watch reached out to all stakeholders to know what went wrong, and why security agencies aborted the event.
First to be contacted was PANDEF’s official spokesperson, High Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe, who gave an account of the series of events that happened before the PANDEF General Assembly Meeting in Port Harcourt was finally disrupted by the Nigerian security agencies.
According to him: “On October 25, 2017, the Directorate of Security Services (DSS) invited senior officials of PANDEF to their office in Port Harcourt, and told us Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, was not properly disposed to our holding our meeting in Port Harcourt. We asked why and the DSS said: ‘The governor said he wanted to host us sometime in November and as such, we should discontinue with the meeting.’ We then told the DSS that PANDEF had written to the governor in August, but he did not respond. In September 2017, one of our chieftains, Alabo Tonye Graham-Douglas, called him on phone, and the governor sent one of his aides, OCJ Okocha’s son to Graham-Douglas, so that the details of the planned meeting could be sent to him. That young man was given all the details and the budget to forward to the governor. In spite of this, the governor still did not respond. That same September, Chief Edwin Clark wrote the governor another letter, reminding him of the proposal. The letter was personally delivered to Emeka Nwosu, Governor Wike’s Chief of Staff. Again, the governor didn’t reply.
“After waiting for a while, we wrote Governor Wike another letter fixing date of the planned meeting for October 12, 2017. We still did not hear from him. Upon realising we were very close to October 12, we shifted the meeting to October 24, 2017 and wrote the Governor again. He still did not respond. At this juncture, we decided to go ahead and hold the meeting, since we did not get a reply from the governor. We did not know why he did not reply our letters. We were also not in a position to know whether or not he was well disposed toward our meeting or not. If truly the governor wanted to host us in November, as he claimed, why had he refused to communicate his intentions to us? After the explanation, the DSS told us that Governor Wike said we are a security threat. It was at this point we told the DSS that we had written to the police, which had agreed to give us six vanloads of policemen to provide security at the venue. If the DSS was also being conscious of the situation, especially since we also wrote to the agency, it should provide us with enough men to man the meeting’s venue. The DSS said there was no problem, and would see to how to cover the event.
“Surprisingly, when we got to Presidential Hotel, venue of the meeting that evening, the hotel management told us they were invited by DSS and were asked not to allow us hold the meeting. Based on this information, we sent Ambassador Igali to the DSS, and he met with the agency that night. He was told there was an order from above that we should not be allowed to hold the meeting. At this point, Chief Clark called DSS’ Director of Operations, who told him they were going to look into the matter and get back to us. We did not stop there. We also called Minister of Interior, who was then in Australia. He told us he was going to look into the matter and get back to us. We even called Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, but his line was not going. Chief Clark decided to send him a text message, informing him of the situation. We all went to bed by 2am on that day. Surprisingly, by 5.30am, the police brought the six vans they had earlier promised, led by the Deputy Police Commissioner of Rivers State. Thirty minutes later, the DC was called not to allow us hold the meeting. Within a very short time, we saw more than 13 vehicles loaded with combined men of the DSS and the Police, who came to cordon off venue of the event. This time around, the Police and DSS were working together to prevent us from holding the meeting. So, we asked our members to remain calm. We had a large number of our delegates at the hotel, while well over 300 others were in other hotels in the city.
“So, those that came to the hotel very early in the morning were still in the hotel, while others that couldn’t enter had to remain where they were. In spite of this, we decided to hold the meeting in two of the hotel’s suites. We immediately looked at the issues we could address at that point. Chief among these was adoption of PANDEF constitution. And we adopted PANDEF constitution after former governor of Edo State, Professor Osaremen Osunbor, who was chairman of PANDEF constitutional review committee, presented it. He presented the constitution clause by clause, and it was amended, after which we voted and unanimously adopted it. After this, representatives from all the states signed it. It was then that we set up the zoning committee, to zone all elective offices of the body. The zoning committee is made up of 12 members, while the electoral committee also set up at the venue was made up of six members – a member each from states making up PANDEF, while the zoning committee was made up of two members from each state. Having discussed all these issues, a communiqué was issued and meeting ended. Unfortunately, we could not go into other businesses, such as state of the nation. It was afterward that we all relocated to Alabo Toye Graham-Douglas’ house, where we had dinner and addressed the press.
Anabs Sara-Igbe said it was at the Port Harcourt gathering that Mike Loyibo, who claimed to be the National Coordinator of Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress (PANDPC), who attended the botched meeting with other PANDPC members, told PANDEF members that PANDPC’s activities were being remotely sponsored by a political party he refused to name, but now that they have realised they were being used for political purposes, they are coming back to join ranks with PANDEF members to salvage the Niger Delta Region.
Palace Watch immediately got in touch with Mike Loyibo, but he refuted the story that he was at the Port Harcourt meeting, and that he never made the statement credited to him by Sara-Igbe.
A day before the botched meeting, the founding Secretary of PANDEF, Ledum Mitee, resigned his position as Secretary to PANDEF. Palace Watch contacted Ledum Mittee and asked why he decided to relinquish his position.
He stated: “My attitude is not to make public whatsoever might be my misgiving; whatsoever might be my problem with PANDEF. Yes, I had some fundamental disagreements with the body on principles. Perhaps, the organisation will invariably learn one or two things from my position. If I had some reasons to quit, it is simply based on internal criticism and reforms. So, to bring this to public domain might bring about some consequences I do not actually intend, because I believe very strongly that, if the changes we want to make in Nigeria will ever come, we still need such organisations as PANDEF to effect these changes. So, I would like to see PANDEF grow. So, when I discovered I could no longer function effectively in the body, I had to resign my position as Secretary.
I am aware there is a body calling itself the Pan Niger Delta People Congress. I don’t share their ideas, and my resignation from PANDEF has nothing whatsoever to do with this new body. I just discovered that I could no longer function as Secretary of PANDEF. I, therefore, had to go. I just felt that I represent a group of people, whose interest is very dear to my heart. So, if I discover that I can no longer represent the group’s interest the way and manner I should, it is just right and proper that I throw in the towel.”
A top government official in Rivers State, who pleaded anonymity, claimed that he is very familiar with the issues that led to Ledum Mitee’s resignation. He alleged that Mitee wrote numerous memos to PANDEF leadership, pleading with them to stop requesting and collecting money from oil companies, who are known collaborators with Nigerian government in all the damages and destruction wreaked by the oil companies on the people and places where they prospect oil. The source stressed: He said: This, and so many other issues are the reasons Mitee decided to quit the body for good, since the leaders enjoying the fallout from oil companies operating in the region wouldn’t stop.
He queried: “Why have journalists refused to do their job, especially investigative journalism? From where did PANDEF leadership raise millions of Naira with which they intended to host the botched general assembly meeting in Port Harcourt? Why was PANDEF leadership so desperate to hold the meeting, even when the host governor said he was not favourably disposed to such? Why the desperation, if not fraud? Let PANDEF leadership tell the public, especially Niger Delta Region people they claim to be representing how much they collected from NDDC and one indigenous oil company toward hosting the meeting. Why did they not pay for the hall, where the General Assembly Meeting was supposed to hold days before the event?
“It was because they knew the so-called meeting would not hold, but they wanted to be seen to be making strenuous efforts towards hosting it, so as to justify the millions they collected from NDDC and the local oil company. Enough of this type of tricks from old men! The people of Niger Delta Region are no fools.”
Palace Watch again contacted High Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe to provide answers to these questions.
And he said: “Whenever the need arises for PANDEF to hold meetings, we do approach organisations and individuals who might wish to support us. We, therefore, do not have any regret getting support from an organisation in the Niger Delta Region. Our constitution states how we are going to be funded. We are, therefore, working within that constitution.
“With regard to the allegation that we did not pay for the hall we were supposed to use at the hotel, I am saying it emphatically that the hall was paid for by a company. That should, therefore, not become an issue here. They can’t say we did not pay for the hall. We paid some deposit. As we speak now, we are presently reconciling our accounts with management of Hotel Presidential. Whether we paid for the hall or not, the event has come and gone. We were all prepared for the meeting.”
The leader of Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress (PANDPC), HRM Pere Charles Ayemi-Botu, who is Paramount Ruler of Siembiri Kingdom, said: “The earlier people like Chief E.K. Clark and all his supporters realise that what is left of PANDEF is carcass, the better, as the soul of that body has long been withdrawn by the militants, who gave the body authority and the moral right to negotiate on their behalf in the first instance. The earlier they realised this fact the better for them.
“There is no power play between PANDPC and PANDEF. We are not operating on the same wavelength with PANDEF. Our main focus now is how to bring about lasting peace and development in Niger Delta Region. We are determined to bring about massive human capital, infrastructural and industrial revolution in this region. We are already working very hard to develop a blueprint on how to convene an Economic Summit, where all international oil companies (IOCs), foreign and local investors in our region, which will include Ministries of Petroleum Resources, Niger Delta Environment, NDDC, as well as the Federal and state government. After the summit, we will come out with an Economic Marshal Plan on how to fast-track development in the Niger Delta Region.”
Pere Ayemi-Botu, alongside General John Mark, who is the leader and coordinator of the Renewed Niger Delta Avengers, said: “The Nigerian security agents were justified for their timely intervention and halting of the supposed PANDEF General Assembly meeting in Port Harcourt. If that meeting had been allowed to hold, it would have brought about massive security breach in the region.”
The militant explained that that sometime in 2016, after they met and deliberated on the state of the nation, they gave their mandate to PANDEF leadership to negotiate on their behalf. But sadly, they have long realised that instead of doing the needful, the defunct PANDEF leadership is in the habit of going all over the place, especially oil companies, collecting money without bothering to address the plight of the people of Niger Delta. Sometime in July this year, these agitators from all creeks in the Niger Delta Region again met, and withdrew the earlier mandate given to PANDEF leadership. Hence, the establishment of Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress (PANDPC), whose leadership now has their mandate.
The Renewed Niger Delta Avengers and Niger Delta Freedom Fighters And Leadership Forum said they are using this opportunity to once again appeal to the Nigerian government to henceforth stop dealing with PANDEF and its leadership, as they no longer have moral right and mandate of the people of Niger Delta Region to speak and negotiate anything on their behalf.
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